Local Activities at Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas.
Hikers enjoying a woodland trail. Approximately 40 miles of hiking trails wind through Big Thicket National Preserve, allowing hikers to observe many different ecosystems. Trails range from a 0.3-mile boardwalk loop to 15 miles. Click here for a list of hiking trails in the Preserve.
There are no developed campgrounds or campsites in the Preserve. Click here to learn more about camping by the Preserve.
Canoeing and kayaking
Village Creek and the Neches River provide many paddling options for canoeists and kayakers, ranging from just a few hours to several days. The preserve includes two Texas State Paddling Trails: the 21-mile Village Creek Paddling Trail and the 5-mile Cooks Lake Paddling Trail. Local outfitters can provide equipment and shuttle services.
Big Thicket National Preserve lies in the path of 2 major migratory bird flyways. Bird migration peaks between March and early May. Approximately 185 bird species either live in the Preserve or migrate through it. The more sought-after birds are the red-cockaded woodpecker, brown-headed nuthatch, and Bachman’s sparrow. The Sundew Trail tends to be a good place to see nutchatches, woodpeckers, and other bird species. The visitor center sells a checklist of birds found in Big Thicket National Preserve.
Hunting is allowed in 5 units of the Preserve during the fall hunting season. Hunters must get a free hunting permit from the Preserve visitor center and must also have a valid State of Texas hunting license. Hunting permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
How about some Fun History about Big Thicket Texas:
Lance Rosier, a self-taught naturalist from Saratoga, was known as “Mr. Big Thicket.” He dedicated his life to the preservation of the Big Thicket.
The terrain in the Big Thicket is unremarkable and offers none of the impressive views that can be found in many other National Parks and Preserves. The area lies on the flat coastal plain of Texas, and is crossed by numerous small streams. The extent of the region was once much larger than today covering more than 2 million acres (8,100 km2) in east Texas. The Spaniards, who once ruled the region, defined its boundaries in the north as El Camino Real de los Tejas, a trail that ran from central Texas to Nacogdoches; in the south as La Bahia Road or Atascosito Road, a trail that ran from southwest Louisiana into southeast Texas west of Galveston Bay; to the west by the Brazos River; and to the east by the Sabine River. Timber harvesting in the 19th and 20th centuries dramatically reduced the extent of the dense woodlands.
The Big Thicket’s geographical features are believed to have their origins with the Western Interior Seaway, an inland sea that covered much of North America during the Cretaceous period. Over time, water smoothed out the land along what is now Texas’s coastline.
Small towns are contained within the Big Thicket. Most of these towns developed in the late 19th century in support of the lumber industry, as evidenced by names like Lumberton. As transportation through the area improved (including the construction of US 59, US 69 and 96), many of the towns slowly became suburbs of the much larger cities of Beaumont to the south and Houston to the southwest.
The Kaiser Burnout in Big Thicket
The Kaiser Burnout was a fire set by Confederate Captain James Kaiser during the American Civil War in the Big Thicket area of Southeast Texas.
Like their counterparts in the Kansas region, local Texans that lived in the Big Thicket forest region who refused to fight for the Confederacy were referred to as Jayhawkers. Unlike the Kansas Jayhawkers, the Big Thicket Jayhawkers were not known to be guerrilla fighters. The Big Thicket was a good place to hide, and Sam Houston had planned to hide his army there had he lost the Battle of San Jacinto. Sometime after April 1862, people who were drafted and didn’t want to fight for the Confederate Army during the Civil War hid in the Big Thicket and became known as Jayhawkers.
The Big Thicket Jayhawkers were initial followers of Sam Houston and fully believed that the Civil War was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”.Randolph Fillingim stated that Jayhawkers “were sensible men. They knew what would happen if the slaves were not freed. It wouldn’t be long till the men who had money to start a business of any kind would buy slaves for his labor and poor whites would be left out.” A few of these Big Thicket Jayhawkers names are accounted for: Warren Collins, Stace Collins, Newt Collins, Lige Cain and Jim Williford.
Although the Jayhawkers lacked coffee and tobacco they had plenty of game and fish. They would live off of the land’s wild fruit and often salvaged corn sacks from timber camps for clothing. Due to the numerous beehives near Honey Island, a vast concentration of these Jayhawkers formed a camp nearby. The Jayhawkers would cut down a tree and take the honey. Where Honey Island is now, there were (at that time) two big pear trees that the Jayhawkers had built a table between. The Jayhawkers would place honey and game on the table for their families to come and pick up and take to Beaumont to sell. With the money from the sold goods they were able to buy many goods they lacked such as tobacco and coffee. Sympathetic locals would also bring supplies to this encampment, often in exchange for the honey that was collected.
In the spring of 1865, a Confederate captain named Charlie Bullock captured some of these refugees and locked them up in a wooden shack near Woodville, but they managed to escape. According to Lance Rosier and Cecil Overstreet, when the Jayhawkers were brought to Woodville there were guards placed all around them. In order to free the men, whiskey was brought by a local sympathizer and the fiddle playing ensued. One of the Jayhawkers, Mr. Warren Collins, snuck his pocket knife in tucked away in his boot. Using some backwoods ingenuity the Jayhawkers pried a floor plank up in the floor of the shack. As the fiddle playing continued, Warren began to dance a “jig” entertaining the inebriated guards. As Warren danced about, the Jayhawkers escaped one by one through the plank lifted up in the floor. In the commotion that followed, Mr. Collins crawled out from the wooden shack and simply walked to freedom.
Shortly after the escape, Confederate Captain James Kaiser set fire to the canebrake region near Honey Island to flush the Jayhawkers out. The fire did not harm any of the Jayhawkers, only the surrounding thicket. According to Lance Rosier, “you take all the Collins’—this whole place is full of them—well, their ancestors [were] Jayhawkers. If any of them had gotten burned in the fire someone would have known about it.” Intense heat from the fire permanently destroyed the canebrake and over 3,000 acres (12 km2) of the Big Thicket forest burned as well.